“I tell you: ask and you will receive; seek and you
These words of Jesus are a source of great consolation for many
thousands – and have been for centuries. They instill hope.
But is it a false hope? Does it mean literally anything we might
ask for? What if we don’t get what we asked God for?
A “LuAnn” cartoon in the comics last month showed the
teen-ager waking up in the morning with a silent prayer: “Please
don’t let there be a test today.” In each successive
panel in the strip, as LuAnn dresses, breakfasts, and heads off
to school, she has the same prayer. The final panel shows her in
class, taking a test. Now she’s thinking: “Does God
ever listen to teen-agers?”
Spiritual advisers have long said: “Of course God listens.
But God answers our prayer in the way that is best for us . . .”
God does that anyway – whether we ask or not. God always does
what is best for us. That is the bedrock of our faith. The life
and death of Jesus are our pledge of that.
Then why are we to ask?
We can perhaps get a clue to a deeper meaning of this passage by
noticing how Luke has situated it. It immediately follows the disciples’
asking Jesus to teach them what to ask God for. Our translation
reads: “Lord, teach us how to pray . . .”, but we have
to remember that, in the New Testament, the word we translate as
“pray” means “ask”. So the disciples request
Jesus to tell them what to ask of God. Jesus responds with the “Our
Father . . .”, which we read in yesterday’s Gospel passage.
But the six or so petitions of the “Lord’s Prayer”
are focused exclusively on the coming reign of God in our world.
Jesus says, in effect, when you pray to God ask him to inaugurate
his reign now ? “. . . on earth as in heaven . . .”
– not “by and by in the sky, when we die.”
Today’s passage says, in effect, if you ask God for that,
he will do it. But we have to care enough to ask, and to follow
up our request with how we live our lives.
Scripture scholar Gerhard Lohfink, in his book “Does God Need
the Church?” suggests that the reason the reign of God has
not come yet is because we really haven’t wanted it to. We
are too comfortable with the religious compromises we have made.
What a chilling indictment that is of our personal commitments!
Here is something I can surely ask God for: “Lord, help
me to want your reign in my world more than I want anything else.”